National Book Award Finalist
The breakout novel from a writer of extraordinary talent: In the wake of a devastating terrorist attack, one man struggles to make sense of his world, even as the world tries to make use of him
Brian Remy has no idea how he got here. It’s been only five days since terrorists attacked his city, and Remy is experiencing gaps in his life—as if he were a stone being skipping across water. He has a self-inflicted gunshot wound that he doesn’t remember inflicting. His son wears a black armband and refuses to acknowledge that Remy is still alive. He seems to be going blind. He has a beautiful new girlfriend whose name he doesn’t know. And his old partner in the police department, who may well be the only person crazier than Remy, has just gotten his picture on a box of First Responder cereal.
And these are the good things in Brian Remy’s life. While smoke still hangs over the city, Remy is recruited by a mysterious government agency that is assigned to gather all of the paper that was scattered in the attacks. As he slowly begins to realize that he’s working for a shadowy intelligence operation, Remy stumbles across a dangerous plot, and with the world threatening to boil over in violence and betrayal, he realizes that he’s got to track down the most elusive target of them all—himself. And the only way to do that is to return to that place where everything started falling apart.
In the tradition of Catch-22, The Manchurian Candidate, and the novels of Ian McEwan, comes this extraordinary story of searing humor and sublime horror, of blindness, bewilderment, and that achingly familiar feeling that the world has suddenly stopped making sense.
A deliriously mordant political satire, Walter's follow-up to 2005's critically acclaimed Citizen Vince begins moments after New York City cop Brian Remy shoots himself in the head. He isn't seriously wounded, and he can't remember doing it. It's less than a week after 9/11, and Brian serves as an official guide for celebrities who want a tour of "The Zero." With stitches still in his scalp, Brian is tapped for a job with the Documentation Department, a shadowy subagency of the Office of Liberty and Recovery, which is charged with scrutinizing every confetti scrap of paper blown across the city when the towers fell. As he learns the truth about his new employer's mission (think: recent NSA-related headlines) and becomes enmeshed in a sinister government plot, he finds an unseemly benefactor in "The Boss," the unnamed mayor who cashes in on his sudden national prominence. Meanwhile, Brian's cop and firemen colleagues shill for "First Responder" cereal, his rebellious teenage son acts as if Brian died in the attack and the president provides comic background sound bites ("draw your strength from the collective courage and resilientness"). Walter's Helleresque take on a traumatic time may be too much too soon for some, but he carries off his dark and hilarious narrative with a grandly grotesque imagination. 100,000announced first printing; 12-city author tour.
Original and Gripping
A unique vision of 9/11 and its aftermath as seen through the eyes of a surviving police officer. Written with insight and compassion. Hard to put down, and hard to forget.
For a while in the mid-2000s there were a lot of "post-9/11" works. There were post-9/11 horror films, movies, novels and TV shows. The phrase is meant to remind us that we're living in a different world, and these new works were supposed to be charting previously-uncharted territory, reacting to a world where the most basic rules had changed.
It would be easy to apply that same label to "The Zero," since it deals directly with the aftermath of that September morning. However, that label would be (as most labels are) extremely reductive. Jess Walter has created a work that feels immediate and gripping, applying a noir framework to a story about one man's struggle to deal with what happened on September 11.
Protagonist Brian Remy's eyes are failing, his memory skips hours, days and weeks, and he's not really sure what is going on in his life anymore. In short, he feels the way a lot of us felt after the tragedy. The story offers us the chance to jump back into that terrible time in our history, to laugh a bit, and to feel the fear of a man who thinks that his life is slipping away. Of course, we've learned that life goes on whether we want it to or not, but Brian's plight reminds us of a time when it felt like nothing would ever be the same.
As usual, JW captures the nuances of time, place, character; but the very nature of his protagonist's narrative leaves me frustrated. I'm struggling to finish this book, and catch myself racing through it in fits and starts (much like Brian Remy I suppose), hoping that the ending will make it all worthwhile. I would much rather savor a read though than stumble from one blank wall to another, looking for an out.